What is a WordPress Theme Framework?

Theme frameworks are very popular in WordPress today. Many people have their favorite framework which they swear by, while others are less tribal, but still usually choose a theme framework for their site as opposed to a regular theme.

However, if you are new to WordPress then could well be unsure of exactly what a theme framework is. This could leave you wondering whether you should use one, and if so, which one is the best. Here is a quick introduction to get you up to speed.

What is a Framework?

There are plenty of different definitions of exactly what a theme framework is. However, it's safe to say that a framework can be considered the core set of files, or foundation, on top of which individual themes are built. The framework sites in between the WordPress software and your chosen theme.

This usually means that the functionality and features of a theme, such as the code, widgets, control panel, templates, etc., are stored in the framework. This leaves the appearance, including the colors, and layouts, being stored in the actual WordPress theme.

In most cases one framework will have many different themes available for it, which are known as child themes of that framework. Websites using a framework will share the same core functionality and features, which are contained in the framework, but can have a totally different appearance thanks to the child theme that is being used.

The Advantage of Using a Framework

For website owners looking to buy a new theme for their site, the main advantage of the framework approach is related to applying updates and improvements. If the features and functionality of the framework are updated, the changes can easily be applied to a website without affecting the appearance and settings of the child theme that is in use.

This allows you to keep your site up to date, without risking losing any content you have added, or changes you have made to its appearance.

For developers, building a WordPress theme for a particular framework allows you to harness the features and functionality of the framework, and skip ahead to creating the design and appearance of the theme.

This makes developing themes for a framework, either for personal use or commercial release, an attractive proposition. This is because there is no need to start from scratch each time. The result of this is that the best and developer-friendly frameworks, such as Genesis have a large selection of high quality themes available for it.

How to Use a Framework

There are two main approaches to frameworks: a separate framework and theme arrangement, or a framework that is integrated into the theme itself.

With the former approach, the framework and the theme are two separate entities, which are both uploaded to your WordPress site. In this situation, the framework is the parent theme, while the theme is its child.  As mentioned earlier, the functionality of the theme is included in the framework files, while the appearance is included in the child theme.

The Genesis Framework and a Child Theme
The Genesis Framework and a Child Theme

If you are simply looking for a theme for your website, and happen to like one that is a child theme for a particular framework, it’s just a case of uploading the framework and the theme and activating the theme on your site.

However, if you are creating a custom design, you would typically upload the framework files, and then create a new child theme linked to the framework and then create your design. The advantage of using a framework in this case is that you can build your theme on top of the code that has been developed and refined by many users, through much iteration, saving you time and effort.

For the latter approach, where the framework is integrated into the theme itself, the theme is uploaded as usual and there is no parent and child relationship unless you create one.  This approach is less advantageous to the end user, as many of the benefits are lost in regards to updates to the framework, and being able to easily switch child themes.

When selecting a framework, it’s important to establish whether a parent child approach is used, with a separate framework and theme; or whether the framework is a part of the theme itself.

Should You Use a Theme Framework?

For anyone in the market for a new WordPress theme for their website, there is no reason not to use a framework. If you like the child theme and the features of the framework, and providing it’s a good product (see the recommendations on the list below) then you should definitely proceed with your chosen option.

If you are developing a custom WordPress theme then creating it for a framework has many advantages, but also a few disadvantages. The main advantages of using a framework for a custom theme design are:

  • Shorter development time as core functionality has already been created
  • Quality foundation as the code will have already been improved and refined by others
  • Existing community of users to learn from and share ideas with

When it comes to the drawbacks of creating a child theme for a framework there are a few to consider:

  • Restrictions of the framework such as existing code and functionality which might need to be circumvented if not needed
  • Possible different approach to coding which you will have to become familiar with

Which Framework Should I Use?

The list of the best frameworks for WordPress below should help you answer that question. But to help you make a decision some criteria to use includes:

  • Cost: some frameworks are integrated into the theme and are therefore included in the price of that theme, while other frameworks are available for purchase separately. If this is the case you will need to take this extra cost into consideration when comparing the prices of different themes.
  • Number of child themes: the Genesis framework has a large number of high quality child themes for it, giving you lots of options for easily changing your site’s design in the future.
  • Features and functionality: does it contain the features you require for your site, such as a page builder, widgets, sidebars, and others.
  • Community: a popular framework will have a good community that has built up around it; this makes it easy to find developers who can help you with customizations, and gives you access to plugins that have been created to help you add features specifically for that framework.

To summarize, frameworks contain the features and functionality, while their child themes take care of the visual aspects such as design, layout, and appearance. Using the framework model allows you to easily update the core functions and features of the framework, without affecting the appearance of your site.

If you are developing your own custom themes then using a framework can save you a lot of time and effort and allow you to leverage the work of others that have gone before you.

There is no reason not to use a framework, and plenty of good reasons why you should use one.

So whether you are simply shopping for a new WordPress theme, or are planning to build a custom design, using a good framework is a smart choice. All that is left is to choose one from our list of the best theme frameworks.

Joe Fylan

Joe has been using WordPress for many years, building many different types of websites along the way. Joe now enjoys working as a freelance content writer and is available for hire.

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